Sunday, January 8, 2012

Paul Burke, The True Comeback Story

So, every so often I write a story over someone... Someone with an interesting tale. Past stories/write-ups can be found here:

Just recently I got ahold of the man, The Myth, The Legend... Paul Burke. In my most annoying, perhaps, standard voice... "Hey, Paul! What's up home-dawg!" I asked Paul if he'd be up for an interview, and low and behold, the story is to be told.

What made you decide for the comeback this year? How did you feel about the past cross country season?

Paul Burke- I had been building my mileage all summer and had finally crossed the 100mpw marker. Since, I'm from Wyoming and go to school at the University of Wyoming, I know some guys on the team. My old high school teammate, Taylor Kelting, and UW's number 1 guy, Greg Miller, came to me asking me to run for the team this year. We had a very strong top four runners... (I interrupt... "Ah, like the 4 musketeers!")

*awkward pause* Paul continues, "And if I could contribute to the top 5, it looked like we would have a shot at making nationals. I thought about it for a while, spoke with my parents, etc, and decided "what the hell?" Since, I'm a fifth year senior I saw it as my last opportunity to run collegiately, and I didn't want to have any thoughts of "what if" twenty years from now. (It should be noted, Paul has not run collegiately since the 2008 track season, and re-entered last cross country season of 11'). Unfortunately we had some injury problems on the team and didn't make it to nationals. I joined a month into the season and only ran three races, but I felt they went well. I don't think I ever really reached peak fitness due to the short season, but it was very encouraging and I'm looking forward to track."

During my sophomore year of OSU, there was a new class welcomed onto the team, "The Freshman". Two Minnesotans, two Missouri kids, and then a Wyoming guy... "Paul Burke". Paul slightly big in comparison to the stature of a typical scrawny runner, abnormally large fists, curly hair, and always repping peach fuzz and a smile. Paul was what parents called, "The All-American guy."

Jedi Squirrels- -

As the first day of practice came about, a 4 mile tempo run on the track. Paul came in slightly out of shape, as the tempo had to be divided up into 800m segments. Afterwards, a few separate groups went there ways on the cool down, and in my group, some chit chat commenced on the cool down. Which basically was simple personal, yet friendly, attacks.

"Hey, your mom still easy?"

"About as easy as yours"

*oooh burn*

"You're gay"

"That's not what your mom said last night"


Yes, people, the jokes were a little more in-depth than noted. I can't seem to recall the exact logistics, as I was currently preoccupied with thoughts of cake, ice cream cake.

I then pipe up, "Alright guys, I got a joke...."


"Alright, let's hear it"

"So... There's an over abundance of squirrels at a church. To such a degree, they began to take over the church and started to overwhelm the members of the church, in such a manner, that SOMETHING had to be done to rid these rodents. At first, they tried to lead the squirrels astray by food and other resources. As this did not work and these varmints kept coming back. Another time, the members gathered these squirrels and took them far out into the country. Only later to see the squirrels making their way back onto the church's grounds. FINALLY, one member of the church puts forth one brilliant idea. He commences to make the squirrels honorary members of the church... And now they only come back for Easter and Christmas!"

*Long awkward pause*

FINALLY... One guys speaks up..... "Clay, never... and I mean NEVER tell that joke or any joke for the matter again, and may God HELP your soul."


Teammate: "Hey, I kind of liked it..."

Another guy: "That's what she said!" ... And back to regular convo.

As we discussed the freshman's future potential and who would be good. Paul gets brought up... I blurt, "I'm taking Paul under my wing, I like him!!!" One guy murmurs... "Poor guy". I look over, "What?" I said, "That'll be good for him!"

"Why and when did you start running?"

Paul Burke-"I've been running my whole life, but it was mostly on the playground until I joined cross-country in 7th grade. I did it because I was the fastest distance runner at my school growing up. So, I thought I might have potential in the sport. I can be extremely competitive, and running allows me to truly test my limitations against others." 

"Ah, so you like hunting people and animals down?!" Paul Burke- "Uhg, What Clay?"... "I said, I can relate, GREAT answer Paul :) !" Paul murmurs, "The kid's still a beat off".... "What Paul?" "Uhg, I said, "That's great, Clay!"

As weeks passed, and months, Paul started to get his form back. By the end of first semester, he clipped off a 55 minute 10 mile tempo, over gravel, hills AND in a snowstorm. Rumor has it, on that run, Paul encountered a Grizzly Bear. Legend by told, Paul simply showed the Bear his fist. The Bear proceeded to eat itself, as it would be a less painful way to die. That poor bear didn't stand a chance in hell.

People began to give Paul his due respect, and as I said from the beginning, "Give him time". Come track season, Paul ran a fine 3000 meter steeple chase and his future years in college were looking 'promising'. The year ends, and thus preparation for cross country was the next plan of action.

By cross time, later to find out, Paul was going to attend Wyoming. That's all I heard aside from some snickers about his future and it being a "closed case". Not much later, and hearing from Paul, the man himself, he said he was still going to run. My thoughts, "Please do, don't let your talents get away from you."

"Who inspired you most along the way?"

Paul Burke- "No one person in particular. I have had many great teammates and friends throughout my career who helped me relax and enjoy the little things but also helped me realize what it took to excel in the sport. Everyone I ran with from freshman year of high school through college contributed to my success in some way. As for pros, I love watching videos of Pre, Coe, El G, Lagat, and Solinsky. Solinsky's 10k AR finish gives me chills every time. "

Animals talk?--- ---

Every so often, I'd talk to Paul and catch. He always seemed like he was doing well, and he kept saying he was training. Typically, and MANY runners find themselves in a similar situation. They wanted to get a new atmosphere for whatever reason, and thus are no longer tied down to train at "this time" and do "so and so" instructed training. In conclusion, causing 99% of runners to no longer be competitive, and "They're done". It's almost an easy bet to make, as is almost ALWAYS the case.

That's what's fascinating with Paul, he was not the standard case. Far from it. Over the 3 1/2 years he was not connected to a college team, I'd mention to him, "You really should run for the University of Wyoming!" By Paul's 5th and final season of collegiate eligibility, Paul made the decision and for whatever reason... He joined. I was pumped when he mentioned it on Facebook and thought, "Awesome, he'll have fun with it.". That was saying the least, as I occasionally lurked results and noticed Paul's performance at conference, at a VERY stacked conference, "WOW, PAUL GOT 8TH?! HOLY COW?!" As I saw names behind Paul... "Damn, he just handed a collegiate All-American his as..."

"Any defining moment(s) in your running career?"

Paul Burke- "I came into cross-country in the best shape of my life my junior year of high school. I was expected to run away with the state title, but after training and health issues and collapsing near the finish at the state meet, I ended up 6th. It was the worst race of my life, and no one thought I'd ever win again. I took indoor track off to train on my own, and that only caused people to gossip about me and spread rumors that I was lazy and tired of running. It seemed everything I did was misunderstood. I came out for spring track and won by 12 seconds in 4:24.0 in my first race (To be noted, this is at ELEVATION), a PR by more than 3 seconds, a meet record, and the fastest time anyone had run in the state in more than 6 years. It quieted a lot of the naysayers, but it also proved to me I could come back and win again. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself and extinguished all self-doubt."

Then came Regionals.... Paul spoke up to his coach beforehand, "Today coach, I will run to one song and one song only!", cue music-  (In a monotone voice that can be heard at the end of commercials, "Please, do not take the context of the songs lyrics for any deeper, hidden meaning. The words are simply provocative... IT GET'S THE PEOPLE GOING!"

"So, Pauly B, may I call you Pauly B? But anyhow, can you entail how regionals played out for you? From my standpoint, you were kind of an underdog going into the race(Regionals) for an individual bid in making NCAA XC..."

Paul Burke- "Regionals was kind of a surprise. I knew I was in good shape and was hoping to be All Region, but I didn't think I had a shot at nationals realistically since I was 8th just in our conference. I would have had to beat about 6 guys at Regionals that I didn't beat at conference just to have a chance, so I kind of went in the race without any high hopes. It was also my first competitive 10k, and I didn't want to run too aggressively and then die. I ran a smart race going out controlled, running mostly even splits until the last mile which was significantly faster than the others (4:40ish) but I finished knowing I could have run faster had I pressed more during miles 4 and 5. To top it off, coming down the last 400m, I passed several guys, one of them being Nate Jewkes from Southern Utah. There were guys in front of me, but none were close enough to real in and I wasn't gaining on any of them. At 9900m of a 10000m race, you're hurting, and with no one to catch and no one around me, I was only running at about 99%. With 20m to go Jewkes comes out of nowhere and gets half a step on me and there was just no time to react in that short of distance. He nipped me by 0.3 seconds and ended up being the last individual to qualify for nationals. I had beaten everyone from our conference except for the MWC champion, a 3:59/7:54/13:36 guy, but I was so down on myself knowing I had let an opportunity slip through my fingers. It was the reminder I needed after a four-year absence from racing that you never give anything less than your all when running a race, especially when there's a chance for something great, no matter how small that chance may be. 

"Highs in running? Low's in running?"

Paul Burke-"There've been many of both over the years, though they've leveled out some since leaving collegiate running my freshman year. I've learned to appreciate life without running, and though I still love running and will run as long as I can, it's not the only thing I care about. I can take it very seriously without it controlling my happiness. That being said, any period of injury is a low, and any PR or major win is a high. I also love the natural high one gets after a really tough workout or race. There’s nothing like putting in a really hard effort with your teammates."

"Any interesting thoughts, or anything random to add on your mind?"

Paul Burke-"If you want to be the best runner you can be, learn everything you can about the sport, particularly what training brings people to success. Learn from guys like Arthur Lydiard and Jack Daniels, but also from your own training history...

Run happy."

-Clay J. Mayes the 3rd

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